Initial comments ...
Lewis: “I’m very excited today to introduce you in person to Teryl Austin. We’re very fortunate to be able to add him to our coaching staff moving forward, and have him come and coordinate the defense. I’ve known Teryl for a long time and followed his career from place to place. He’s done a very good job everywhere he’s been. He has a lot of energy, knowledge, and passion for the game. We’re very pleased to have him here.”
Coach Lewis, what were you looking for in a new defensive coordinator, once it became clear the Paul Guenther wasn’t returning to the staff?
Lewis: “I thought it was important to have somebody that would stay within in our structure, because of the personnel we have returning and that we didn’t have to make a drastic change. The people that I reached out to — we only really had one come in officially — would not have our players have to re-learn the wheel. There are things that Teryl did the last few seasons in Detroit that are very compatible with what we do. He can shape (our defense) now with his hands, and with the rest of the coaches. Obviously when you take over a similar situation, as I did years ago from when I left Pittsburgh, you inherit some coaches, schemes and players. You have to adjust the coach a little bit, more so that the players don’t have to take too much of a sideways step, and we can keep pushing forward with their knowledge. There will be a different way of doing things, in some ways. We will find them, and obviously we have to do them better.”
In situations like this, there are similarities and differences in language with what was previously used. But when you’re coaching the coaches and inheriting staff, is that a big factor in determining how much is new?
Austin: “It always is. The first thing you do when you come in, you look at how they call things, how they do things, and what’s most comfortable for the players. Because, it’s more about them than it is about us. It’s easy for us to learn, but if you have (players) that have been in (a system), we try to keep things as similar as possible terminology-wise, because that makes coaches and players more comfortable. But, there will be some changes in terms of how we call a few things, but it won’t be an overhaul.”
What do you know about Vontaze Burfict, and are you looking forward to working with him?
Austin: “Absolutely. I haven’t watched all of the tape from last year, but I know he’s a good ball player, from following him around the league. We saw some film of him at times last year, and you watch how he plays and the passion he plays with. I’m excited to work with him.”
Similar to what Coach Lewis was asked earlier, what were you looking for in potential landing spots for you as a defensive coordinator?
Austin: “Like Marvin said, you want to be somewhere where you have an opportunity to win and don’t have to overhaul things. When we came to Detroit, I was coming out of Baltimore, which was based out of an “under front” system. Then we got to Detroit, and they had a 4-3 front, and we had a lot of good players. So, what I did was adapt what we did and tried to use the players to the best of their abilities. We had a very successful year that first year we went in there, and it was really strong. We were trying to do what they were doing (previously), but trying and do it better. So, when you start looking, that’s one thing you … you don’t want to have to overhaul the system, get different types of players and change everything around. I think this will be a pretty smooth transition moving forward, and having the opportunity to help these guys get better.”
You two have a lot in common, between growing up in the Pittsburgh area and having both worked in Baltimore. Did that create an attraction?
Lewis: “They’ve made some revisions since I’ve been in Baltimore — it’s been a long time — they made more of a transition … in fact, the year I left, they wanted Brian (former Ravens head coach Brian Billick) to transition to 3-4 principles. I’ve been in the NFL for 27 years now, and I’ve only coached for four years in the 3-4 (laughs). I’ve spent 23 years in the 4-3 now. That’s the thing — there are some similarities, terminology and so forth that has carried on. Obviously, everybody tweaks it a bit, but there are some similarities that we know from my time in Pittsburgh. Teryl actually worked for us one summer in Baltimore when I was there, and we’ve been in contact. Even prior to our game this year against Detroit, I told him to stay in touch (laughs). That’s the profession we’re in. I’m glad it has worked out. Obviously the big thing was his opportunity to possibly to become a head coach in the NFL. I was waiting for that to break, and I know that will occur in his future, and that’s the exciting thing. Hopefully we have great success immediately and he gets that opportunity.”
When were you preparing your defense in Detroit against the Bengals, what did you think of the Cincinnati offense?
Austin: “I thought, at the time, they were beat up on the offensive line. So, defensively we thought that would be an area we could have some success. Obviously A.J. Green — I coached against him when I was in Baltimore, and I know what type of player he is. I thought Andy Dalton was a fine player. The running back, Mixon (Bengals HB Joe Mixon), we weren’t sure if he was going to play because he had been out, but we thought (the Bengals) had a really good running back in him. And with Giovani (Bengals HB Giovani Bernard) as a third-down back, moving the chains, in screens, and in the passing game, we knew we would have our work cut out for us. We held up fine for a while, but then we didn’t make enough stops and they were able to move the chains. We missed some four-minute stops, and we didn’t give our offense another chance to win the game. Regarding the offense, I think when the offense is healthy, you have enough firepower on offense to help us (on defense). But really, I’m concerned about defense and making sure the defense does the right thing, and that our defense gives our team a chance to win, however that is. I know a lot of times people say things like, ‘You’re ranked this, or you’re ranked this.’ All I care about is how many times can we help our offense and our team win the game. That’s what I’m most concerned about.”
Teryl, your defense created a lot of turnovers last season, while the Bengals lacked in that area. Is there a mindset you instill to create turnovers, or is it schematics? Or, does it just happen?
Austin: “No. It’s like anything else in coaching: You get what you emphasize. I know for a few years, our first year, we were really good. Then, we kind of fell back a year. We talked about it and tried to emphasize (takeaways). This past offseason, I really dove into making sure we emphasized it more. We ran more takeaway drills, and we kept that going throughout the entire year. I think it paid off, because what our guys saw was tangible results early, and they kept building off of that. And that’s why I think we were able to get as many turnovers as we did this past year.”
You guys have known each other for a long time. Is this the first real opportunity you’ve had where timing worked out to work together?
Austin: “Marvin would never hire me before (laughs).”
Lewis: “I think the last opportunity might have been when he went to Florida. I can’t remember exactly the time, but all of a sudden, he got to Baltimore really quickly. I don’t like to see when they have good coaches (laughs). That’s part of the coaching business, you know? He was at Penn State when Coach Morton (Bengals strength and conditioning coach Chip Morton) was there, so he has a lot of ties to a lot of people on our staff. Everybody was very comfortable when they heard that we had the opportunity to interview and hire him, because of their comfort level with him, and because they know his expertise and the kind of man he is.”
The fact that Bengals LB coach Jim Haslett is also from Pittsburgh has to be somewhat comforting …
Austin: “Yeah, it’s good. You get some western Pennsylvania stories. And Haslett’s wife is actually from the town over from me, and I kind of found that out in my interview here. She knows my cousins, my dad, and a lot of my immediate family. It’s kind of neat when you have a lot of connections. That’s always helpful, when you have connections to people. The one thing about western Pennsylvania guys is, we kind of see football the same way. That’s what we grew up with. It wasn’t basketball, it wasn’t baseball — football is what we love and what we like to do. That’s always nice.”
One of the first things you look at with a new coaching opportunity has to be players. We talked about Burfict, but you have a couple of Pro Bowl defensive linemen on the roster as well, along with some talented guys on the back end. The cupboard doesn’t seem to be bare, defensively …
Austin: “Absolutely. There is good talent here. Like every year, I’m sure we’re going to try to add that talent, then it’s my job to make sure that talent performs on the field. I’m looking forward to working with the guys, getting them together, trying to get them to reach as individuals so that we can reach our potential as a team.”
Coach Austin, you’ve been outspoken about how the Rooney Rule has or has not been applied and the spirit of the rule. Coach Lewis, you had some experience at the beginning of it, so maybe you can jump in …
Lewis: “I was before (the Rooney Rule), but that’s fine. Unfortunately, I guess (laughs).”
Coach Austin you’ve interviewed for head coaching jobs and had that opportunity many times. Can you talk about this past offseason and maybe how you’ve seen this happen or not happen from your view?
Austin: “When I made the statement about the Rooney rule, it was how I felt after that particular year, which I think was maybe last year before the season. I thought, at the time, there were some interviews that weren’t … I didn’t put my best foot forward. That’s the best way to say it. Moving forward, it’s like anything. I didn’t get interviewed in Detroit, but it probably wasn’t going to happen because of what happened to us as a staff. I think, more importantly than worrying about the Rooney rule, I (need to) get my defense to play well, because then the other stuff will take care of itself in time. Sometimes you can tell when things are good. And some of those interviews, it wasn’t because of the Rooney rule, it’s because I didn’t do very well. But other times, it was just, ‘Hey, we’re going to check this box and move on.’ But moving forward, if I have another opportunity and things work out … if I deserve to get (a head coaching job), I’ll get one. If not, I’ll move on, I’ll coach the guys the best way I can, and I’ll go from there.”
Lewis: “And I think regardless of that, having gone through it with Mike Zimmer, Hue (Jackson), and even Jay (Gruden), the emotional involvement that it takes coaches when they have an opportunity to interview to be a head coach in the NFL gets discounted. The emotion that it takes, the preparation, and all of those things, there is a disappointment if it doesn’t work out. The hard part, and what the individual coaches have to do, is every time you get that opportunity (to interview for a head coaching job), you hopefully get better at that so the next person can say, ‘That’s what I’m looking for. That’s exactly, frankly, what I’m looking for.’ And then you have that opportunity to ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ it on your own, because it is a two-way street. I think that’s important. I always tell coaches, ‘You go in and do everything possible to get the job, then you make the decision whether or not you want the job.’ You have to do it that way, otherwise everybody senses it and it’s not right. If you’re truly involved, then jump in with both feet. If not, don’t do it. The involvement it takes emotionally, the stress, the preparation for both you and those around you … don’t put yourself through that.”
Coach Lewis, you came so close to a head coaching job in 2001, and ’02. What do you tell coaches when somebody comes so close to landing a head coaching job …
Lewis: “Well, I don’t know if somebody comes close. I came closer than you knew, basically. It’s a two-way street, you know what I mean? You get (the job), and then make a decision whether or not you want it or not.”
Coach Austin, along those lines, how much was Marvin’s coaching tree a selling point for you to come here?
Austin: “The best selling point is that you have a chance to work with a quality person and a quality team. That’s the biggest selling point. At some point, you have to put all that other stuff (aside) — that other stuff will take care of itself. You can’t control that, so when you have an opportunity to work with good people, good players, good teams, you have to take that chance. That’s what I was looking for more than, ‘Hey, I have a chance to work with Marvin and possibly become a head coach.’ That’s not what I’m looking for. What I’m looking for is an opportunity to coach some men, get better, work with a good group of guys, and try to make them successful.”
Obviously Marvin is a big mentor. Who are some other mentors that you can point to in your coaching career?
Austin: “I’ve been lucky and have been around a lot of good coaches. The guy I just worked for, Jim Caldwell, is outstanding. I worked with him in four places. He actually gave me my first shot as a Division I coach at Wake Forest, as a full-time coach. He felt good enough to bring me to Detroit, and I have a ton of respect for him. Lloyd Carr, when I worked up at Michigan, is one of the all-time greats. One of the guys that helped me get into the pros was Ray Rhodes. When I worked with Ray in Seattle, it wasn’t X’s and O’s or anything like that, he just really did a good job in terms of preparing me for how to deal with NFL players, how determine who’s with you or who’s not with you, and how to get them on your side. How to get the guys to play. He really did a lot for me. Those are three guys off the top of my head, and there’s been a lot more. I’ve been really fortunate in my career to be associated with a lot of really good football coaches, and really good people. I try to take what I can from everybody to help me become, hopefully one day, as a good of a coach as a lot of those guys I mentioned.”
In the official club news release of your hiring, you used the word “aggressive.” For people who may not break down Lions film, what does that word mean to you? How will people see that once camp starts?
“I think being aggressive is that, on defense, we are going to try and play on their side of the line of scrimmage. We’re going to play without fear. We’re going to play really physical and strong. I guess that’s what I mean by aggressive. We aren’t going to sit back and let somebody dictate what we do. That’s what I mean by aggressive. Aggressive is not fighting and talking and all that other stuff, it’s how you play the game. That’s what I want the people to see.”